Three accomplished scholars challenged Christians to confront “the sin within” during the Jess Moody Faith & Culture Forum, which explored how to overcome racism that has permeated individuals, politics and the church.
“We have to always understand the ‘I’ of the situation,” said Jemar Tisby, author of “The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism” and a national speaker. “Whether you committed these acts or not, we live within the legacy of the past.”
Tisby joined Concordia College President Rev. Dr. John Nunes and Dr. Oscar García-Johnson, assistant provost for the Center for the Study of Hispanic Church and Community at Fuller Seminary, for a panel discussion Thursday morning in the packed DeSantis Family Chapel. Dr. Ryan Gladwin moderated the panel.
Before and afterward, Tisby, Nunes and Garcia-Johnson each gave presentations centered on the forum’s theme, “A Dialogue on Racism: Looking Back, Looking Forward.” There was a subsequent public panel discussion Thursday night at Tabernacle Church in West Palm Beach.
Tisby said he’s been “evangelical-adjacent” for a long time, because white evangelicals tend to welcome “visual diversity” alone. They want people of other races represented in their church services, but they expect them to preach the same way, read the same books, attend the same schools and worship the same way, Tisby said.
“So often, when we come into these places, they want our presence, but not our perspective,” Tisby said.
Nunes said he and his wife raised their six children with the fundamental belief that the idealized world they saw on “The Cosby Show” can be real. Instead, the grown children face more racism than their parents could have imagined.
“The world they live in is decidedly different than the world that we prepared them to live in,” Nunes said of their children. “They have deep resentment because the promises we made to them have not come to fruition.”
Their adult son, John Nunes, Jr., nicknamed J.J., has been pulled over more times in seven years of driving than the elder Nunes has his entire life — including one occasion when four police officers pulled him over for one unpaid parking ticket.
When people learn that García-Johnson is from Honduras, they assume that he came to the United States within the last several years because of the immigrant caravans making the news, he said. He is asked whether or not he “has papers” to be in the United States.
Christians have more knowledge about those types of injustices than ever before, Tisby said.
“The question is what are we going to do about it as people of faith?” he said.
Nunes invoked the wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed for his resistance to the Nazis: the first service that a Christian owes to another is listening.
The solution includes recovering the idea that every person is made in the image of God, with Jesus as the perfect image-bearer, García-Johnson said.
“The church needs to become the church of Jesus of Nazareth, not the church of Jesus of the United States, not the church of Jesus of Europe,” García-Johnson said.
At the end of the chapel forum, one student asked how Nunes and his wife would raise their children differently in light of what they know today. Although they don’t want their 10 grandchildren to internalize the racism around them, they do want to instill in them a healthy skepticism, he replied.
“We are people of hope. We are people of joy,” Nunes said. “It’s a balance between the reality and hopefulness.”